The dream remains very much alive for Kristofer Westblom.
The former Kelowna Rockets netminder has landed his first job in the pro game after signing a one-year deal with the Central Hockey League’s Dayton Gems.
If all goes as planned, the Ohio-based team will be a stepping stone to what Westblom hopes will become a long and fruitful pro career.
“It’s very similar to the East Coast league, a developmental league where lots of guys want to move up and that’s what I’ll be aiming for,” said Westblom. “Teams are always looking for call-ups, so I’ll being playing hard every night.”
Westblom is coming off a solid three-year stint of CIS hockey with the Acadia University Axemen in Wolfville, N.S., where he refined his game and gained plenty of confidence in the process.
The Meadow Lake, Sask. native started 24 of 28 games for Acadia during the 2010-11 regular season, then was nothing short of stellar in the playoffs where he posted back-to-back 1-0 shutouts over UPEI in the opening round.
In the second round, he stopped 80 shots in one game, a 3-2 overtime loss to the eventual CIS champions from the University of New Brunswick.
“I put up some good years (at Acadia) and I feel I’ve continually improved my game,” said Westblom. “The pro dream is still there and I want to pursue it as much as possible and see where it takes me.”
Earlier this summer, Westblom flew to Voorhees, New Jersey for a tryout with the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers in hopes of landing a pro contract. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound stopper felt he played reasonably well but with six goalies in camp said he likely got caught “in the numbers game.”
Then came the offer from Dayton, an opportunity he was quickly sold on after speaking with former Rockets teammate, Tysen Dowzak.
“There’s some familiarity in Dayton with Tysen playing there last season, and I talked to him about the city, the team and the coach,” Westblom said. “That adds to the comfort level of signing a contract, so that’s huge for me.”
And while climbing the hockey ladder is Westblom’s long-term goal, he understands of the importance of making the most of his first opportunity at the pro level.
“Obviously guys want to try and move up, get to the American League to the NHL, but right now I’m just happy to have a place to play,” he said. “It’s somewhere where I’m going to be able to log a lot of minutes and play a lot of games. It’s important for me to do that this year.”
Westblom wore Rockets colours for four WHL seasons from 2004 to 2008.
In 2005, he was a third-round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild and was once projected as a key piece of the NHL club’s future. But a serious injury to his left knee in February 2007 derailed Westblom’s plans.
After long and arduous recovery, he was left unsigned by the Wild, and closed out his WHL career in Kelowna as a 20-year-old.
With no pro offers forthcoming, Westblom accepted a full-ride scholarship from Acadia, a decision he hasn’t regretted for a single moment since.
“Looking back at everything, things happen for a reason, I have my university degree now so it’s something nice to fall back on,” said Westblom, who has his business degree with a major in accounting.
“I had a really great three years there, now I can just go ahead from here and see what happens.”
With current Kelowna No. 1 goalie Adam Brown away at Edmonton Oilers’ camp, Westblom will fill in at Rockets’ practise for the next week or so.
Then in early October, he’ll head to Dayton for his first pro job with the CHL’s Gems.